In a heartwarming ceremony held at Kew Gardens’ Tropical Nurseries in West London, Sir David Attenborough generously contributed a valuable collection of seeds from Easter Island (Rapa Nui) to the skilled horticulturists of the nurseries. The intimate event, attended by Richard Deverell, Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and Richard Barley MBE, Director of Gardens at RBG Kew, celebrated the 50th anniversary of the renowned ‘Plant a Tree in 73’ campaign—the catalyst for the establishment of The Tree Council.
Spearheaded by Dr. Sonia Haoa Cardinalli, a Rapa Nui archaeologist and author of “Cultural and Environmental Changes of Rapa Nui,” Sir David was presented with 31 seeds of Sophora toromiro, commonly known as the toromiro tree. Recognized for its distinctive rose-colored wood, this plant from the legume family is indigenous to the isolated Pacific island of Rapa Nui. Tragically, it is classified as Extinct in the Wild on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List due to human activities such as deforestation and the introduction of agricultural animals in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Thor Heyerdahl’s 1950s visit to Easter Island discovered only one surviving toromiro tree. Seeds collected by Heyerdahl were sent to Gothenburg Botanical Garden in Sweden, with subsequent cultivation at a botanical garden in Menton, Southern France.
Though the last surviving specimen on Rapa Nui has disappeared, hope endures. Toromiro plants persist in cultivation in botanic gardens globally, including toromiro hybrids at Kew Gardens. Successful attempts to reintroduce the plant to Rapa Nui have seen thriving specimens, including those in the garden of Dr. Haoa Cardinalli.
Richard Barley MBE, Director of Gardens at RBG Kew, expressed gratitude for the Sophora toromiro seeds, emphasizing the privilege of accepting them from Sir David Attenborough—a lifelong advocate for nature. He noted the vital role botanical gardens play in addressing climate change and biodiversity loss, making RBG Kew an ideal sanctuary for the seeds.
Before donation, the seeds underwent inspection and received approval from Joanna Bates, Head of Plant Health and Quarantine at RBG Kew. The seeds will now be nurtured and displayed in the Temperate House, the world’s largest surviving Victorian glasshouse. Some seeds may also find a home in the Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst, RBG Kew’s wild botanic garden in Sussex, ensuring their preservation.
Alex Baribeau, Tropical Nursery Supervisor, expressed the team’s excitement in accepting the seeds from Sir David, acknowledging the honor and responsibility of caring for them. During his visit, Sir David explored Kew Gardens’ Tropical Nurseries, learning about rare and threatened species, including critically endangered aloes and unique plants like Conophytum chrisocruxum. The visit shed light on the critical threat posed by human activities, particularly poaching, to wild plant life.
This meaningful occasion underscores Sir David Attenborough’s enduring commitment to nature conservation and Kew Gardens’ pivotal role in safeguarding endangered plant species.
Photo Credit – Jeff Eden © RBG Kew